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Jennifer Danza Jennifer Danza and her daughter enjoy a sunny day at Alyeska.

Jennifer Danza Keeps Her Eye on the Finish Line

From elite ski racer to CBPP double-major

February 5, 2021

Jennifer Danza always knew she wanted a college degree, but it kept taking a backseat to other endeavors: a life on the road as an international competitive alpine skier, moves between Italy, Canada and the U.S., raising two young children, and coaching 150 young athletes in Alyeska Ski Club’s competitive racing program.

“Slow and steady wins the race” is not a proverb that fits well with the life of a downhill ski racer, but Jennifer has learned it’s a good motto for achieving her goals in college. She had started working on her business management degree in Calgary in 2014. After moving to Alaska, she transferred to the College of Business and Public Policy, where she juggles classes with her job and family life.

Maybe it’s her competitive spirit and goal-oriented upbringing that influenced a recent decision – to add accounting as a second major. Her persistence and scholarship at CBPP earned her a 2021 Dean’s scholarship. She is one of 23 to receive this scholarship.

Nothing about Jennifer’s schooling has taken a linear course. She grew up between the U.S. and Italy, adapting between Italian and English instruction and vastly different school systems. That wasn’t her only challenge. After moving to Montana at age twelve she had to ride her bike nine miles to school and back. She excelled as an alpine ski racer, competing all the way up to the Europa Cup, but dealt with knee injuries and broken bones along the way.

When her athletic career came to an end, the forces that had propelled her along were suddenly gone and she needed time to refocus before thinking about college. Having achieved elite skier status in Italy, she was qualified to begin coaching immediately. The travel perks enticed her, too. That delayed college even more, but the goal was in the back of her mind for years.

“As an athlete I had to stop because of injuries, and it was an abrupt stop,” explained Jennifer. “With studying there have been hurdles, children, family jobs, moving from one country to another. These are all my choices and it was a privilege having these opportunities, but they slowed studying down. I am committed to finishing, and the coursework is really interesting.”

From a personal and coaching perspective, Jennifer understands that attaining her college goal is like a ski racer working in soft snow. Staying balanced and generating momentum is harder! But she keeps the finish line in sight, learns from experience and put losses in perspective.

“Sometimes projects or classes do not go as well as they should mainly because I am too busy with work and family,” she said. “I have learned to take a breath even on those bad days and try to work everything out again one step at a time. There is always a way to obtain your goal.”

Like all students and faculty, she’s had to pivot to online learning this year, which has been another challenge. “I really enjoyed the in-person interaction and having professors incorporate their life experiences into their lectures. That stuck in my brain a little more when they tied their examples to the module or book chapter. Even though online classes during the pandemic are easier for my schedule since I don’t have to drive from Girdwood, it is more difficult, as there isn’t as much interaction.”

As for managing family life along with a job and studies, Jennifer credits “help from my husband, coworkers and of course from my boss and professors who have been great mentors to me.” She also does what she can to minimize distractions like social media or other things that “take up time and that are not too useful.” Even with a long to-do list, she makes it a point to read to her son (9) and daughter (4) every night. Jennifer and her husband are “very adventurous mountain people,” who feel at home in Alaska’s rugged outdoor spaces because it reminds them where they grew up, in the Italian mountains near the border of Switzerland and France. Alaska’s playground offers plenty of outdoor adventure, both for her family and on the job.

As director of the ski racing program for Alyeska Ski Club, Jennifer can immediately apply what she’s learning in business management and sees how accounting could be helpful in the future, too. “I will understand budgeting, forecasting and how our accounts line up properly, which are important to the health of a ski racing program.”

She’s quick to point out that it takes a team to make the program run successfully, and she praises the contributions of the coaches she manages. Motivating teams is a critical aspect of business management, so she’s already well on her way to success. Or should we say: successo!